Where to Start When Implementing ISO 14001

When developing an environmental  management system to ISO 14001  the first thing you should do is an initial environmental review (IER). In this post I will attempt to give you an understanding of the purpose of an initial environmental review and how you might complete one.

The initial environmental review is not a mandatory requirement of ISO 14001, but is a very important process. It tells us where the organisation is now from an EMS point of view. It also looks for compliance and gaps against the ISO 14001 standard.

The key purpose of such a review is to help understand relevant EMS requirements which need to be put in place in order gain certification to the ISO 14001 standard.

Undertaking an initial environmental review

An initial environmental review consist of collecting and analysing information. There is no standard approach to completing one but the following is logical:

  1. Selection of the review team.
  2. Review Preparation.
  3. Site Review.
  4. Reporting.

1. Review Team Selection

In an ideal world a team should be developed that has the required knowledge, skills and experience to carry out the review. Such team members should have a good knowledge of the organisation but will also have some knowledge of environmental management. In reality however the review is often left to one person.

If there is distinct lack of experience in the organisation then the use of an environmental consultant should be considered. However, be careful – make sure that you retain ownership of the process.

2. Initial Environmental Review Preparation

As with most things in life preparation is key! You should organise a meeting of the review team with the following agenda:

  • Project outline.
  • Initial review team responsibilities.
  • Initial review methodology.
  • Collection of information.
  • Communication.
  • Establishing a work plan.

The methodology for the review is particularly important and the following should be determined:

  • What methods for collecting data will be used – e.g. interviews, document review and observations.
  • What the report will look like.
  • How the report will be communicated.

The types of document that are considered during a review include:

  • Site permits, consents or other legal documents.
  • Financial records such as energy or water bills.
  • Correspondence with members of the public, regulators and other external bodies.

An initial environmental review questionnaire should be developed at this stage. The environmental review questionnaire should acts as a prompt for collection of information. A common approach is to identify the parts of ISO 14001 in the first column followed by  spaces  in the next column for collection of  compliance information found during the review.

3. Site Review

This phase involves observations, interviews and  review of relevant documents of both internal and external parts of the organisation. You would approach this in a similar way to an audit. Make sure that you:

  • Use you questionnaire as a guide to interview relevant people.
  • Walk around the site and observe what is happening.
  • Look at relevant documents such as policies, legal documents and records.
  • Develop a basic process flow diagram for the organisation and consider the inputs and outputs for each stage of the process.

A key part of this stage is to consider what gaps are present between what you find in your organisation and what is required by the ISO 14001 standard.

4. Write a report

A report should now be prepared that covers the

  • Existing environmental performance.
  • Parts of the EMS that are and are not presently in place.

A report summary could  simply be a landscape table with the ISO 14001 requirement in the first column and a description of the findings in the next. Here at EHS Response we also tend to use a traffic light system to sum up the findings of the initial review.

Once a report has been prepared it would be a good idea to formally present it to senior management.

I hope this helps get you started in your quest to implement an ISO 14001 EMS.